Why Lebanon Refuses Deportees

ISRAEL'S acknowledgment that 16 of the 413 Palestinians it expelled in December were deported by mistake confirms the need for judicial procedures and due process of law. It also underlines the probability of many more being innocent.

Israel's desperate search for a third country to house the deportees and its attempt to "barter" their return for the death of the intifadah is an indirect admission that the problem is Israel's responsibility and is an Israeli-Palestinian issue. It is also an acknowledgment that it is not Lebanon's problem and that Beirut's position is valid.

Israel miscalculated in assuming that Lebanon would be a compliant partner in its disregard for the rule of law. Even within Israel, criticism of the deportations is rising. Israeli legal commentator Moshe Negbi wrote: "If a military commander can now tear hundreds of people away from their families and dump them across the border without prior solid proof of their guilt or without giving them a reasonable chance to prove their innocence, then the army's power becomes virtually absolute."

Lebanon's position rests on firm legal, political, and moral grounds. To begin with, it concurs with the deportees' unwillingness to leave their homeland and their refusal to be dumped on another country. Furthermore, it opposes this Israeli action, which violates the Fourth Geneva Convention, as unanimously affirmed by United Nations Security Council Resolution 799, which calls upon Israel to rescind its decision. At stake in Israel's refusal to abide by this resolution is the UN's credibility and role in the new world order, particularly when juxtaposed with its enforcement of UN sanctions against Iraq.Historically, the massive deportation of Palestinians to neighboring states since the inception of Israel has been a destabilizing factor in the political life of many Arab societies. Since 1948, Lebanon has absorbed many of the Palestinians driven out by Israel. The majority of them viewed their stay in Lebanon as temporary.

As a political solution to their problem and their right of return became an elusive dream, they became more convinced that militancy was the answer. This brought tensions in Lebanon to such a point that in 1975 it triggered a civil war. The presence of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon was used to justify repeated Israeli aggression against Lebanon, which culminated in its occupation of the south in 1978 and, in 1982, its invasion of Lebanon, which extended as far as Beirut. The Israelis wanted to "clean"

Lebanon of the very Palestinians they initially drove into it.

LEBANON has succeeded in recovering its internal stability and security. Forcing Lebanon to absorb these deportees, would, however, place a heavy, unfair burden on its efforts to reestablish peace and security. Despite the human dimension of this issue, we cannot afford to derail our recovery by shouldering Israel's responsibilities and facilitating its transgression of international law and its obligations as an occupying power.

Furthermore, if Lebanon were to accept these deportees, it would be allowing Israel to establish a precedent for many more deportations - adding to the pretext for probable future attacks on Lebanon. Israel continues to occupy southern Lebanon on the rationale that it needs to protect its northern border. It is highly likely that it would use the same argument in the future if these Palestinians were to remain in our country. A comment by Joshua Schoffman, an Israeli civil rights lawyer, is ironically id entical to our own reasoning. He states: "If they can deport 400 people this way, they can deport 4,000 and 40,000, and no one can stop them."

Consequently, Lebanon has a legitimate right to defend itself from the aggression Israel is perpetuating against Lebanese sovereignty. Israel has refused to approach the problem politically, as is evident in its continued occupation of our territories. Yet it is also evident that this military approach has not solved a problem that is political in nature.

The Arab-Israeli peace talks are the appropriate avenue for resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict. The deportation of the Palestinians is a manifestation of the core of this conflict, namely the Palestinian problem. Resorting to deportations and depriving Palestinian nationals of their basic human and legal rights is a prescription for escalating violence. Such actions may also deal a severe blow to the peace process and its quest for a just political solution to the problem.

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